Last week, Charlie Sheen became perhaps the most recognizable person in America with HIV. Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who went public with his status in 1995, has some words of advice for the actor.
“This is such a wonderful, teachable moment because we have gotten complacent about HIV/AIDS,” Louganis told Entertainment Tonight.
But the 55-year-old athlete-activist is worried about Sheen’s health—his mental health.
“I’m most concerned for him because I suffered from depression and was treated for it,” he says. “Those are issues that can really inhibit your health and well-being. You realize, ’You know what? This is just a part of my life and as long as I take care of myself then I can be here for a long time.'”
Louganis was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, when treatment and understanding were negligible—and paranoia was rampant. “I couldn’t divulge my status because I wouldn’t have been able to compete,” Louganis told G Philly. “There was so much fear and ignorance.”
At the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, Louganis hit his head on the springboard during a preliminary dive but continued to compete and earned two gold medals, despite cutting his head and suffering a concussion.
When Louganis announced his status seven years later, he lost almost all his corporate sponsors and was criticized for competing as an HIV-positive Olympian, despite the fact that blood in the pool posed no health risk. (Only Speedo retained Louganis as a spokesperson.)
Sheen’s disclosure has shined a light on America’s continued ignorance about HIV/AIDS, and Louganis says its imperative we don’t start picking apart his personal life.
“It is a viral thing, not a moral thing,” says Louganis. “It doesn’t discriminate.”
He says the first thing he’d do if he met Sheen is give him a hug and say, “I’m here.”